2009 Irish Hall of Fame Inductee: Joe Montgomery
By Kathy McGee Burns
“A Gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.”—George Bernard Shaw
Joe Montgomery’s friend and long time associate, Bob Gessler, says, “Joseph Mongomery is the gold standard for what it means to be an Irish Gentleman.” Joe is being honored by the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame on November 15th, as it celebrates its 9th Annual Awards Dinner.
His whole life represents service to his country, religion, profession and heritage. He is the ultimate family man and true friend to all. Born in 1919 (yes, that makes him 90), he is the son of John J. and Rose Moran Montgomery. Joe’s father had been sickly off and on following World War I. He died when Joe was 10, forcing him to be “the man of the family.” This was during the Depression years.
Rumor has it that Joe Montgomery’s fathers people were from Cavan but we definitely know that Rose Moran’s family came from County Mayo. His Great Grandfather David Moran served in the Civil War, first on the USS Galena, commissioned in 1862, an unclad screw steamer that was part of a unit of Admiral David Farragut. Later he finished his service on the USS Philadelphia.
Joe was a dutiful student at Epiphany of Our Lord School (11th and Jackson), serving as an altar boy and a choir member. He also attended the Purple and the Gold, Roman Catholic High School. While he was there, he played for a team called the “Mighty Mites,” named for their collective lack of height. Three of his teammates went on to be champion players for St. Joseph College: Matt Goukas, Dan Kenny and John Mc Mena-
Montgomery enlisted in the Army Air Corp, 1939, and spent 44 months in Panama and the Pacific Theatre. He managed to rise to the rank of top sergeant.
Marriage was easy for Joe, all 55 years of it, because he had captured the heart of the beautiful, Mary Collis. Mary, whose family was from Sligo, was a member of Trans- figuration Parish. Joe sang in their choir from 1937 to 1980. They had three children, Kathleen, Patrick and Joanne. Mary was Joe’s right hand. When I mentioned her name, there was glee in his voice and he said, What about her! She was the only one for him and he was the only one for her. “Mary made me look good.” They worked side by side in all they did. Mary passed away in 1998.
Joe worked as a Teamster for 35 years retiring in 1981.
Joe Montgomery’s dedication to service for others and especially for Irish causes defines his character. Here are some of his accomplishments:
- He is the Past President of the Irish-American Societies of the Delaware Valley and honored as their Man of the Year in 1983.
- Past President of the Commodore John Barry U.S.N. Society
- Past Chairman of the Philadelphia Chapter National Immigration Committee
- Past President of the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Committee
- Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Parade 1993
- Advisory Committee of the “Treasures of Early Irish Art”
Joe told me that the year he was Grand Marshal there was a terrible blizzard. The rules state that there is no rain date but the then Mayor, Edward Rendell, insisted that the march go on the following week.
Joe Montgomery’s greatest love is his AOH, Division #65. He served as tpresident for 42 years and now holds the title of president emeritus. He has also been the state AOH president, served four terms as Philadelphia president and in1992, Joe was awarded the highest honor: Gold Card Life Member.
He is also the recipient of an honor unprecedented in the history of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. On the 100th Anniversary of Division 65, the members decided to name the group after Montgomery. All AOH divisions are named after deceased members. But Joe had once commented that given his long-time service to the AOH, that maybe when he died they would name the division after him. At the ceremony, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney said Joe was the first person he ever knew that got his dying wish while he was still alive.
“Those fellows couldn’t treat their own fathers better than they treat me,” Joe told me. During the 2007 national convention in New Orleans they bought him a first class plane ticket. When he balked, they said, “You are first class.”
Fellow Div. 64 member Jim Kilgallen says Joe Montgomery is king of the one liners. A few of his best:
- John McDoe would give an aspirin a headache
- John McDoe could start a fight in an empty room
- John McDoe is as cold as a landlady’s heart
- John McDoe is as popular as a widow with a pension.
All of his AOH brothers have stories to tell about Joe Montgomery. Pat Mulhern said Joe doesn’t have an enemy in the world. “At conventions, everyone knows him; they run up to him and practically kiss his ring.” I asked Joe Martin what was interesting about Joe. He laughed and said “Everything about Joe Montgomery is interesting.”